Sinbad's seventh voyage
Once again, Sinbad the impoverished porter joins other company to hear of Sinbad's journeys. After dinner, he tells of his seventh and final voyage.
Now content in Baghdad, Sinbad had no desire to return to sea. However, when Caliph Harun al-Rashid asked him to carry gifts back to the King of Serendib, he eventually agreed.
Sinbad managed to arrive at Serendib with no trouble, and the king received him graciously, thanking him for the gifts.
On the return voyage, however, Sinbad faced his usual issues. This time, his ship and crew were captured by pirates, who took Sinbad prisoner and sold him as a slave to a rich merchant.
After realizing his new slave was good with a bow, Sinbad's merchant master ordered Sinbad to hide in a tree and shoot an elephant as it stampeded by. After succeeding, Sinbad and the merchant buried the corpse, so that they could later gather its bones to sell for ivory. They continued to kill elephants in this way, until the animals figured out what was happening, and surrounded Sinbad's tree one day. Overpowering Sinbad, they carried him to an elephant graveyard, where there were huge piles of bones. Clearly, they wanted Sinbad and the merchant to collect ivory from here, rather than killing more elephants.
When Sinbad brought news to his master, the latter revealed how the elephants had killed many slaves in the past, meaning Sinbad was the first to survive. In gratitude, the master granted Sinbad his freedom, and gifted him an ivory ship on which to return home.
However, now wary of the sea, Sinbad only sailed to the nearest port, and then joined a merchant caravan that traveled overland until he returned Baghdad, now never to depart again.
Once Sinbad finishes his final story, the porter acknowledges that the sailor's hardships surpass his own. Sinbad the sailor gives Sinbad the porter more money, enough to ensure that he will never have to return to his job as a porter.
Some versions of The Arabian Nights contain an alternate version of this final story.
In this one, Sinbad ended up shipwrecked after setting out on his final voyage. He built a raft and floated downriver to a city, where its chief merchant then gave his daughter to Sinbad in marriage and named the sailor his heir before dying.
This city was stranger than it seemed, though: once a month, its inhabitants transformed into birds. Sinbad convinced one of the bird-people to carry him up past the clouds, where he heard the angels glorifying God.
Soon afterwards, fire appeared from heaven, consuming the bird-men. They blamed Sinbad, and placed him on a mountain-top as punishment. There, he met two youth. There were servants of God, and they gave him a golden staff.
When he returned to the city, he learned from the chief merchant's daughter that the bird-people were actually devils, though she is not one of them. He then brought her home with him, and they resolved to live in peace.
In this version as well as the other, Sinbad never again went to sea.
At last, Sinbad decides that he has had enough of the sea. If one of the main themes of these stories is that curiosity can kill, then this marks the denouement of his story. He has learned his lesson, taken enough chances to make his fortune, and now will wisely abstain from chasing down adventure for its own sake.
And yet he still sets out again, at the caliph's behest. The fact that he protests and yet goes anyway reveals his dedication to his empire and its ruler, but that is only one explanation. Arguably, Sinbad belongs to the sea. If stories are the way we define ourselves, it is telling that all of Sinbad's stories are about the sea. It is where he became who he is. Thus, it makes sense that he would want to experience it one more time before finally settling down with his wealth back at home.
Of course, it is interesting that he continues to tell these stories with such gusto - even though he has given up the sea, he is clearly still obsessed with it. Yet again, The Arabian Nights comments on storytelling. Here, the idea is that we continue to tell our stories to remind ourselves of who we are.
Is is unclear how the two differing versions of the final story each became so common, but each adds something different to Sinbad's story. In the first version, Sinbad escapes his misfortune in a different way than he usually has. Here, he is granted freedom by his master; he does not have to steal it or secretly escape it himself. It is a reflection of his virtue (the elephants trust him), and not just his strength.
After that fortune, he chooses to travel most of the way home by land, suggesting that he has finally gotten everything he needs from the sea. Perhaps this decision is tied to the fact that he was freed from virtue. He has now been lauded not just as a strong man, but as a good and trustworthy one. This virtue aligns with his identification as a good Muslim, and hence offers a satisfactory culmination to a long tale full of troubles.
The second version fundamentally suggests the same end, though in a more explicitly spiritual way. In this version, Sinbad has a direct encounter with the heavens, and is not only allowed to escape punishment but is in fact given a gift by God's helpers. In other words, God recognizes Sinbad's goodness, and wishes to reward him for his struggles. Further, Sinbad returns to Baghdad with a new wife in this version, an external symbol of being tied to home.
Again, what both endings have in common is the idea that Sinbad has now been blessed because of his virtue. He is not a vagabond of the sea, but an upstanding citizen whose wealth reflects his goodness. Ultimately, this is what Sinbad the impoverished porter is meant to learn - success is not divorced from goodness, but is in fact tied to it. This value aligned with Islam at the time, meaning that these stories serve a didactic purpose as well as being entertaining.
The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor is one of the longer, more convoluted examples of the typical rise-to-fortune stories found in The Arabian Nights. Further, the fact that the fall-then-rise pattern occurs seven times over only makes it all the more potent. Sinbad has learned a lot throughout his voyages, and has earned his prosperity not just through luck but also through perseverance and goodness. The reader (and Shahrayar) are meant to learn this along with the impoverished porter.